Let’s Talk Politics

The Trump presidency is a big test for America’s friends and foes in Asia Pacific, says Australian professor of international politics Mark Beeson


Donald Trump Addresses Republican Retreat In Philadelphia

For Mark Beeson, there is no better time to be teaching international affairs than now. Hardly a day goes by without new shocking revelations coming to light about how ideologically divided the United States is these days.

And President Donald Trump’s antagonistic positions on numerous issues are a textbook case of what a global leader should not have adopted.

But underneath the polished intellectual exterior, the professor of international politics at the University of Western Australia is deeply worried.

The unpredictability of Trump’s leadership is a big test for the rest of the world as a misguided response could bring cataclysmic consequences.

“It’s now quite a remarkably interesting time, and quite an unsettling one,” said the Australian. “The Trump administration sends out contradictory signals all the time. So it’s really hard for friends and foes to know what they are likely to do.”

The Trump presidency brings uncertainty to the already debilitated relationships of powerful nations. On the global economic front, Trump kept his election promise and ripped up his predecessor’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on his first day in office.

The decision to kill off one of the most far-reaching and binding free trade agreements has effectively snubbed America’s closest allies, Australia, Canada and Japan, which are signatories.

“That’s been a real blow for many of the countries in Asia, particularly to Australia and Japan, which has put a lot of time and effort in trying to get that agreement up. It was a good agreement,” Beeson said.

“In fact, as far as America’s national interests go, the TPP might not have been done too badly by its multinational corporations. So you have got to wonder about whether the Trump administration really understands the nature of that agreement and global trade.”

China, America’s strongest competitor in jockeying for world dominance, is also receiving the same incoherent, and at times, contentious treatment.

Trump has yet to slap a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports as promised, but did reiterate last week his stern stance on China. The latest rhetoric saw the new White House occupant slamming the Chinese as the “grand champions” of currency manipulation. But then immediately, his Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin softened the tone at another occasion.

In stark contrast to Trump’s protectionist “America first” policy is President Xi Jinping’s defense of a liberalized global trade system. There are several free trade initiatives already in discussion that look destined to cement China’s dominance in Asia.

For example, the ASEAN-sponsored Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. The United States was not involved in either before Trump was elected so it is highly unlikely that it will get involved now.

“They are both potentially significant if China will be the driving force behind them,” Beeson said. “Yet, there is a big debate around how serious and willing China would be about actually following through what it has implied doing.”

China’s growing influence has unnerved the China hawks in the Trump administration. Key skeptics include trade chief Peter Navarro and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They advocate a more combative rhetoric toward China economically and militarily.

“Navarro has a very old-fashioned mercantilist, zero-sum view. He turns out to be a big influence on Trump, who doesn’t seem to have a fixed position on trade. Trump is clearly open to be influenced,” Beeson said.

“Tillerson has said the United States is going to stop China from reinforcing in the South China Sea. The only realistic possibility to doing that is by military means. Trump has already said he would increase the size of the navy from 272 to 355 ships.”

“The Chinese government will find it difficult to back away from their claims and desire to remain in control of those islands. The dangerous thing on both sides now is that they are both painting themselves into a corner from which it is very difficult to retreat.”

The war of words between the two superpowers not only would end up turning Asia Pacific into a flash point for an actual war, but also hurt innocent bystanders economically as the United States has been a key importer of goods produced in the region since the East Asian miracle.

Smaller entities in this part of the world, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, regardless of where their allegiance lies, will become “the meat in the sandwich” to the transactional approach to diplomacy of the two great powers.

“It’s naive to have blind faith in any allies or alleged friends. All countries pursue what could be in their national interest to some extent. But it’s much more consequential when the country is America or China,” Beeson said. “Their ideas of pursuing their national interests have ramifications for the world.”

“So can countries trust them? Probably not in the sense of whether they are going to stick to their words if the circumstance doesn’t suit them or there is a change of administration.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on March 7, 2017.

Natural Resources

The fashion industry’s junk is this woman’s gems


Fashion can be a wasteful industry. And Jeanine Hsu, who started in the industry, was so bothered by the waste that she decided to launch a sustainable accessories label more than a decade ago.

Her hand-crafted jewelry, whether it costs hundreds or hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece, are all made with offcuts from furniture factories, recycled precious metals, and abalone shells collected from local restaurants.

The designer, who honed her skills at theater arts workshops, as well as with fashion houses such as Alice Temperley, Diesel and Vivienne Westwood, is also exploring unconventional raw materials: fish skin and faux leather made out of vegetables.

“The goal is 100 percent recycled material and zero waste,” the half- Austrian, half-Chinese founder of jewelry label Niin said. With plans to enter China next year, the Hong Kong label has a global retail network, as well as celebrity fans, such as supermodel Kate Moss.

It’s hard to imagine it had its start as a flea market stall, where Hsu sold bone and wood jewelries that she had found in Paris.

“I would go and queue up at the Portobello market every Saturday at 5am to make sure that I got the corner spot that I wanted. And on Sunday, I would do the Spitalfields market in east London,” Hsu recalled.

“The switch from fashion to jewelry design was a subconscious thing. After working for years in fashion, the waste really bothered me. I lived near the Portobello market so I thought I could sell something and make my own cash.”

Although Hsu grew up in an artistic environment with her parents being avid art collectors, and her grandmother being a fashion designer as well, her choice of occupation had always worried her father, a Hongkonger who owns a private security systems company.

Hsu’s Austrian mother is now married to former Hong Kong stock exchange chairman Ronald Arculli. “My mum has a good sense of style and her home is always beautifully finished. Attention to details is something that my sister and I got from our parents,” Hsu said.

Interestingly, Hsu’s sister Claire also picked a career in the arts. She co-founded Asia Art Archive, a non-profit organization that preserves and makes accessible reference materials on contemporary Chinese art, and sits on the museum and acquisition boards of the M+ museum.

“My dad came to visit me once. He was horrified – after all the money they spent on my education, I was a market stall trader,” Hsu added, explaining that she spent her formative years at the German Swiss International School, and later attended a boarding school in Surrey, and eventually graduated from Central Saint Martins with a degree in womenswear.

Hsu took a leap of faith, opening her first physical store in Sheung Wan three years ago. The shop has since attracted a steady stream of customers who share a belief in ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion.

A case in point is the recently launched collection named Alaria. Hsu partnered with Austrian label Aenea Jewellery to produce nine seaweed-inspired designs made with conflict-free gemstones and recycled palladium.

“The challenge to be eco-friendly is authenticity – where you are buying from, and how to be transparent in your production process. Transparency is the hardest. It can come down to even just to keep my wood separated from the others’ in a workshop,” she said.

Hsu said her creative inspiration comes from everything in her daily life: spirituality, female identity, modernity and solidarity. She also draws on the amalgam of Austrian, British and Cantonese cultures, incorporating in her design crystals that bear an auspicious connotation or are deemed to have a healing power.

That said, she does not work with materials from endangered animals such as ivory and rhino horn. She also does not pick those that conflict with the cultures of the source country – for example, cow bones from India.

“I am designing an emblem for an American family living in Hong Kong. The dad appreciates all the materials that I use, and he wants to have a family crest for his family. It will be made into rings and necklaces,” Hsu said.

The article first appeared in the Standard on September 1, 2017.

Neat Fix for the Cash-Strapped


A digital wallet might be considered an alternative payment option, but it is fast becoming a choice for cash storage too. Local start-up Neat is using the technology to help millennials and small businesses access traditional banking services not available to them.

Neat services the “underbanked” – students, freelancers, first-time jobholders and expatriate entrepreneurs with difficulties opening a bank account. It allows them to receive and pay money with a digital bank account and a prepaid Mastercard.

Traditional banks often see these customers as “unprofitable” because they tend to earn low incomes, have a low credit score, and have no interest in purchasing high-value products, such as structured investment products.

“A student has no money so banks do not really care about them. And typically, banks don’t give a credit card for businesses on their first year. That’s a big problem,” said David Rosa, a former banker who founded Neat in 2015.

“We went through the same emotions everybody has as a start-up. We had a long dialogue with the bank before we managed to open an account.

“Even if businesses have corporate credit cards, the cards have very low limit. The statement comes once a month. It’s like driving a car using just a rear view mirror.”

Neat is one of the 13 mobile payment companies that received a license under the “stored value facilities” regulation introduced by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in November. It is the only company that targets the “underbanked” segment.

The “underbanked” segment is largely underserved worldwide. It is estimated that 12 percent of Hong Kong’s population, and close to 1.2 billion people in the Asia Pacific, lack adequate access to formal banking services, according to local start-up Fintech HK.

With Neat as an alternative banking option, users can make deposits to their digital account through internet banking or the Bank of China’s ATM machines. Each Mastercard that Neat issues has a deposit limit of HK$100,000.

Opening a digital account, peer-to- peer money transfer and real-time balance check are done entirely via a mobile app.

To open an account, users have to provide passport details and proof of residence, as well as taking a selfie to verify an account applicant’s identity. Neat will do due diligence and turn down applicants who might use their accounts for money laundering and terrorist financing.

Neat does not charge individual account holders, but fees will apply to corporate account holders. Many users are expatriates currently working in the SAR. And since the start-up was launched in December, it had a 55-percent monthly growth on new registration.

“We are 15 times cheaper than a bank in terms of acquiring and maintaining a customer because we don’t have a physical branch. That’s meaningful because we can afford to deal with customers who are not normally attractive from a revenue point of view,” Rosa said.

The start-up’s monetization model relies on taking a cut of the transaction fee paid by Mastercard merchants, selling anonymized users’ behavioral data, as well as pushing promotional deals to users on its mobile platform.

It is adding a multi-currency account service, allowing customers to pay in US dollars when they shop online or travel overseas. More currencies, such as the British pound, Japanese yen, as well as the euro, will be included in the near future.

If travelers to Britain use Neat’s Mastercard and pay in local currency, they can save two to four percent on transaction fee, Rosa said.

The article first appeared in the Standard on August 7, 2017.

Pure Grit

A rainy-day interlude led Colin Grant to start the Pure Group, a phenomenally successful fitness and yoga chain in Asia


It pays to have a hobby. And for Colin Grant, doing what he loves has also turned out to be rather profitable. Starting with two teachers and a studio in Central, his fitness and yoga chain now has outlets in Shanghai, Singapore, Taiwan and New York.

“We didn’t start with 27 locations. We started with one. It was a pipe dream after taking a yoga class. The success is not my doing. It’s the yoga, and the fact that people want to stay healthy,” the co- founder and chief executive of The Pure Group said.

Grant is opening next month another 10,000-square-foot yoga studio on the ground floor of Pacific Place on premises that Burberry used to occupy. Three additional venues have also been planned to open next year in Causeway Bay, Singapore and Beijing.

The studio in Admiralty will offer yoga and meditation classes, designed for office workers. Retail stores will be included, selling cold-pressed juice, salad, smoothies, as well as athleisure wear from the group’s spin-off Nood Food and Pure Apparel label.

“What we are trying to do is to build a lifestyle awareness. People don’t just come and practise yoga. They can come an hour before their class, or stay after their practice, to meet friends and socialize,” Grant said, describing his ideas.

Grant, a tennis whiz kid, founded The Pure Group in 2002 with Bruce Rockowitz, chief executive of Li & Fung’s Global Brands Group. The pair have a long-standing friendship, dating back when Rockowitz was the teenaged Grant’s tennis coach.

Grant moved to Hong Kong when he was 11 as his father was posted to work for the MTR. The teenager was a top seed, representing Hong Kong in many international tournaments, including the Davis Cup.

He displayed an entrepreneurial spirit even when he was young. At 12, he started his first company in racket stringing. Before Pure, his most successful was video rental shop Movieland, which he started at 18. His store at the Aberdeen Marina Club is still operating today.

In 2001, a golf trip to Canada led Grant and Rockowitz to establish Pure.

“Bruce and I were exercise nuts. We could not play golf because it was raining. So someone suggested that we did a yoga class with Patrick Creelman. It was totally different from weightlifting. It felt good. The next day I practised yoga again instead of golfing,” Grant recalled. “When I came back after the holiday, my body and mind actually missed yoga. I quickly returned to Canada for another week and took more classes.”

After that week, Grant and Rockowitz decided to open their own yoga studio. It took them only five months to open their first outlet at the Centrium.

“We were the first tenant in that office building. We got there before Gilbert [Yeung, Dragon-i founder],” Grant joked.

In hindsight, the opening was incredibly risky. An investment of US$1 million (HK$7.8 million) went into the project. The pair set up a venue equipped with locker and shower facilities that no yogi would think were needed. Advertisements that featured Almen Wong Pui-ha, former model and now yoga instructor, were everywhere.

And in the days when only a few would go to the gym, let alone to yoga class, Pure’s monthly membership was HK$800, double what California Fitness charged.

“At the time, there were only three or four yoga studios in Hong Kong. Their combined area was probably about 2,000 square feet. We opened a 6,500-square-foot studio. We did not even know that it was the largest in the world,” Grant said.

Even Grant agrees that his success was an outsider getting lucky.

“I wasn’t afraid of failing because every time I went on a tennis court when I was six, seven years old, I knew that I was going to win or lose. Losing didn’t scare me. It motivated me. If I lost, I would analyze why I lost. I would go and practise and try to win,” he said.

Today, the company is phenomenally successful. In Asia, it employs 1,600 staff, and 20,000 people attend its fitness and yoga classes every day.

In Hong Kong, the studio in Langham Place is the busiest, with 1,400 check-ins every day. Encompassing a floor area of 35,000 square feet, it’s also one of the world’s largest yoga studios.

“People who want to lead a healthy life will pay a premium for quality services. But to stay competitive, we are constantly evolving, and offering new offerings. The fitness industry is not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” he said.

The article first appeared in the Standard on July 21, 2017.

To the Nines

Luxury food importer and restaurateur recounts how she got hooked on the business


It’s not a replica of the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo – though the venue sells fresh produce from Japan, and you can walk into any sushi bar and restaurant and ask the chefs to prepare the seafood you have picked.

The concept is really more of a “downtown seafood market, modeled after a similar one in Tuen Mun’s Sam Shing Hui,” said May Choi Shiu-ha, who opened a 50,000-square-foot specialty food market, named Nine Seafood Plaza, in Whampoa Garden last month.

“It’s a promise that I made to my father: to keep his seafood trading business going after his death, despite our family having diversified into real estate and other more lucrative industries,” said the managing director of Sun Wah Japanese Food.

The junior Choi is the eldest daughter of Choi Kai-yau, who founded the Sun Wah Group in 1957. The late businessman was born into a family of farmers in Zhongshan. Uneducated, he earned his fortune by exporting seafood to Japan after he moved to Hong Kong as a young boy.

The senior Choi saw a demand in Japan for flower and bamboo prawns that were processed and frozen in Southeast Asia. He lobbied for support from big firms to set up a wholesale channel before anyone else did.

“Japan was very affluent under the reign of Emperor Showa,” she said. “We could sell a 12-meter container filled with prawns for roughly US$300,000 in Japan.

“My family had had no local ties, and did not know Japanese or English but he managed to convince Mitsubishi and Mitsui to partner him as he would charge them only after they made a profit. This decision was risky but proved his vision right.”

The junior Choi joined Sun Wah after graduating with a literature degree from the University of Hong Kong. She helped her father with administrative, accounting and translation works, and then moved on to seafood trading and Japanese restaurants.

Her younger brother, Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, is chairman of the group, looking after the other business units.

Sun Wah is one of the largest seafood wholesalers in Hong Kong, importing tonnes of seafood from Japan every month, and selling it to more than 1,000 local restaurants. It also imports vegetables, packaged food and kitchen appliances.

“Except firearms,” she joked when asked about what she doesn’t sell. “We import everything you can imagine: aprons, cutlery, fruits and vegetables, snacks, shoes, the iron pot for cooking kamameshi (a traditional rice and meat dish), and even sushi bar counters. We have 11 freight shipments delivering perishables from Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, and Okinawa every week. We also ship hard-to-find products from South Korea, and Central and North America.”

These specialty products include abalone, conch, Kamikomi pork, Mozuku seaweed, king crab, octopus, oyster and organic blueberries.

Choi is proud of the importing unit as she persuaded her father to include it in the family’s business. She established the logistics system, as well relationships with overseas trading partners, over the past decade.

“My first air cargo weighed 12 kilograms. Three clients separately ordered a fish, a tomato and some other vegetables. My father joked that he would have bought more stuff from the supermarket in a single purchase.

“I learnt Japanese by myself so that I can talk to the vendors in fish markets.”

She also had to overcome the double stigma of being a foreigner and a woman.

“I was once invited to an old fisherman’s home to have dinner with his family. He was in his 80s, and lived in Erimo, a small town in Hokkaido famous for its salmon.

“He knew that I wanted to buy salmon from him but did not take me seriously. He challenged me to meet him the next morning at 4.15 to go on a fishing trip, saying that he would decide afterward. It was winter, but I did manage to get up in the cold after two hours of sleep. When I arrived at the pier, the old man was putting on his boots. He was amazed to see me. We eventually became business partners.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on July 14, 2017.

Starting with a Bang

Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald unravels mysteries that all started with a big bang

Canadian astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald, center, meets The Big Bang Theory cast (Credit: Queen’s University)

Nerdy genius Sheldon Cooper from the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory would struggle to contain his jealousy if he got to meet Arthur McDonald – because McDonald won the Nobel prize and he hasn’t.

“And my high-school sweetheart, Janet, was hot. She still is after being my wife of 50 years,” joked McDonald, the astrophysicist whose work has earned the respect of many, including a former student, David Saltzberg, science consultant of The Big Bang Theory.

The real-life science whiz at Queen’s University in Canada was awarded the prestigious award in 2015 for solving a long-standing mystery in fundamental physics: the properties of neutrinos, known colloquially as the ghost particles.

Neutrinos are one of the basic building blocks of our world. Their origin can be traced back to the period immediately after the Big Bang.

They hold the key to define how our universe evolves, how we can better observe supernova and black holes, and how the sun burns.

But neutrinos have certain unusual properties that make them extremely difficult to detect. They don’t carry electric charges so they don’t behave the way electrons do. They do not experience the strong interaction which binds quarks and protons in a nucleus.

Before McDonald’s discovery, scientists knew little about neutrinos, except that they are produced in the core of the sun, passing through the Earth in enormous quantities. In fact, hundreds of billions of them are going through your body at this moment.

“We are oblivious to their existence,” said McDonald. “For the type of neutrino – electron neutrino – we were studying, five millions go through something the size of your thumbnail every second. Maybe once in your lifetime, they’ll stop in your body.”

In 1984, a group of 16 scientists came together when a physicist, Herbert Chen Hwa-sen, at the University of California at Irvine tried to borrow C$3 million (HK$18.05 million) worth of heavy water from the Canadian government to build a neutrino detector.

No scientist had tried constructing such a facility before. The required engineering was a technological challenge. To build an effective detector, one has to first make a hole deep enough to get rid of the interference from other particles coming from outer space.

McDonald was a tenured professor at Princeton University at the time. He recalled the long journey from conception of the experiment to design, construction, commission and data analysis that ultimately led to the evidence that won him a Nobel prize.

“The cavity that we excavated was in an active nickel mine where thousands of tons of ore moved out in a day. The facility is the size of a 10-story building. No one had ever been able to dig a cavity that size at that depth before,” he said.

“We had to construct an acrylic sphere 12 meters in diameter, and five centimeters thick. The company that built it had to develop new techniques to do something no one had done before. It took us 2.5 years just to build the sphere.”

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, located in Canada, did not start operating until 1999. The facility was where McDonald and his large international team discovered that neutrinos can change identities, known as “flavors,” transforming themselves between electron-, muon- and tau-type.

The metamorphosis requires neutrinos to have mass, dispelling the long-held notion that they were mass- less. McDonald’s data have altered how scientists understand the innermost workings of neutrinos.

His measurements also verify our understanding of how the sun burns, leaving open the possibility of reproducing on Earth the nuclear fusion that powers the sun, and thus, developing a new energy source that will benefit mankind.

Scientists from Hong Kong play a substantial role in some of the latest neutrino research. There is a group from the University of Hong Kong working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, McDonald said.

Another physicist at Queen’s University, named Mak Hay-boon, worked with McDonald to develop the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. McDonald is building a new facility nearby, which will open next year, to work on neutrino double beta decay.

“A physicist named Wang Yifang, whom we shared another prize with last year, made his measurements at the Daya Bay reactor. He is doing another experiment at the Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory in southern China,” he added.

McDonald has retired from teaching, but he is still active in neutrino research, including working on a paper about dark matter particles that will be published this summer. As life imitates art – or vice versa in his case – the astrophysicist is well on his way to unraveling a new mystery that all started with a big bang.

“This is what you do in basic physics. You keep track of the most important things internationally, look for opportunities where your skills and background can do something earth-shattering, and during the process, push the boundaries of technology,” he said.

The article first appeared in the Standard on July 11, 2017.

Know Your UV Numbers

New research shows effectiveness of sunscreen depends on the thickness of the applied layer


It’s common knowledge that exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. And you know you should wear sunscreen when you go out in the sun. But do you also know that the effectiveness of sunscreen depends on the thickness of the applied layer?

Many studies have shown that we typically apply sunscreen at a layer thinner than the recommended two milligrams per square centimeter. This results in a significant reduction of the sun protection factor, or SPF, that a product promises, and increases the likelihood of associated health problems.

A recent study observed 40 subjects applying an SPF 50+ lotion at a thickness of 0.75 milligrams per square centimeter, which is typical of how much consumers use, and found that they were only getting an SPF of about 20.

“You will get protection from DNA damage even if you apply at a lower concentration than the SPF tested by manufacturers. But the thicker the application is always better,” said Antony Young, the study author and experimental photobiologist at King’s College London.

The study also looked at molecular changes in the dermis. The subjects were exposed to simulated solar radiation at two intensity levels that mimic the amount of sunlight that one receives in a normal day, and spending a day at a beach or in a tropical environment.

It was found that when people wore sunscreen at the recommended thickness, they would get a quarter of the damage to their skin under the most extreme condition.

“People tested were Caucasians with skin types which are most sensitive to sunburn. It means they have the greatest risk of skin cancer. If they receive that dose without sunscreen, it will burn their skin. So it’s a very significant reduction of damage,” Young said.

Inadequate protection from the sun can cause health problems not only for Caucasians, but those with a darker complexion. Ultraviolet light from the sun is one of the proven causes of skin cancer. And the incidence rate of the disease has been rising rapidly worldwide.

While the reported cases of skin cancer were lower in Hong Kong than in the West, the numbers are increasing, possibly because of increased participation in outdoor activities and an aging population.

Data of the Hospital Authority’s Hong Kong Cancer Registry show that new patients almost doubled between 1997 and 2007, rising from 430 to 815. Non-melanoma skin cancer, which is linked to sun exposure and artificial tanning, is the most common type of skin cancer.

“The sun causes many effects to the skin – sunburn, tanning, immunosuppression, inflammation, and molecular changes and damage to DNA. They are the reasons that sun exposure has a long-term health effect, such as skin cancer and photoaging,” Young said.

“While some may regard photoaging as a cosmetic problem, a lot of evidence suggests that it plays a role in skin cancer. A factor that causes the majority of skin cancers is damage to DNA, resulting in a particular type of lesion called cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer.”

Most people, except xeroderma pigmentosum patients, have a natural capacity to repair these lesions. But it takes time as it has a half-life of 33 hours, and can accumulate under repeated sun exposure. If our body has to repair 100 such lesions, it means you have to stay shielded from the sun for roughly 13 days.

“People with xeroderma pigmentosum lack the ability to repair DNA. The consequence of this is their incidence of skin cancer is thousands of times greater than normal. They will get skin cancer at about 10, possibly die at about 30, if they do not avoid the sun,” Young said.

“In normal cases, our cells can efficiently repair DNA damage caused by the sun. However, this ability declines with age, and is not 100 percent foolproof. When the fail-safe mechanism fails, you only need one failed repair to cause a problem.”

Skin cancer has a low mortality rate. It can be spotted and treated early but the most important first step is prevention. Sunscreen is a cheap and effective choice.

“Use a high SPF product even if you don’t theoretically need SPF 50 or 70. Do a couple of applications within a space of 20 minutes. That way you are building up the thickness to get the real SPF,” Young said.

“And if you miss a gap, you are more likely to cover that up.”

Be careful when you use certain products that claim to have specific protection against ultraviolet A or UVA or UVB. UVA is more abundant in the atmosphere and goes deeper into the skin, resulting in more cell damage; UVB is much more effective in causing sunburn.

While a product that only blocks UVA might be suitable for inactive people who wear sunscreen to avoid their complexion from getting darker, it is not appropriate for outdoor use. And the product that only blocks UVB can take away the burning effect but you will still get high doses of UVA.

The article first appeared in the Standard on July 11, 2017.

Steaming Ahead

Miele division managing director shares how he hawks luxury to the masses


When Kenny Lam Cho-kan asked a friend whether he should accept a sales job at Miele, the answer was a resounding no. His friend had a point. The German white-goods maker, whose local office was established two decades ago, was a big fish in a small pond.

Lam, managing director of Miele Hong Kong and Macau, joined in 1999, a year after the local unit was set up. The aftermath of the Asian financial crisis could then still be felt. With everyone tightening their purse strings, selling high-ticket home appliances that few could afford was a struggle.

In those days, a washing machine from Miele could easily fetch five-digits. It may sound reasonable, given a notebook computer costs around the same, but it was rare for people to pay so much for electrical goods.

“People could not make sense of our prices. Remember, it was the time when iPhones didn’t exist. The It phone was a Nokia 8800,” Lam joked.

“And what’s called a kitchen was a counter top with a gas stove. It made no big difference whether you lived in Tregunter Towers at Mid-Levels or in public housing.”

Lam was tasked with selling dishwashers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners to retail shops. Vacuum cleaners sold best as they were a lot cheaper.

“A retailer told me that his shops would not carry our brand even if we supplied products for free,” Lam recalled. “Now it’s not uncommon to see households spending tens of thousands of dollars to install nice built-in branded cabinets and appliances in the kitchen.”

In two decades, Miele has added more than 100 retail locations in Hong Kong and Macau, and grown annual sales by nearly 50-fold.

The local unit is marking its anniversary by unveiling a two-story flagship store and experience center in Causeway Bay next week.

“The store will be our only flagship in Hong Kong and Macau. It is our biggest investment of the year,” Lam said. “We have also worked with two non-profit organizations to release a book about preserving Cantonese cuisine to deepen community connection.”

These days, property agents share a private joke: new housing projects equipped with Miele appliances can command a higher premium.

And when property developers organize show flat tours, as evidenced by the four recent residential sites in Ho Man Tin and Kai Tak, they do not shy away from highlighting the German label in their sales pitch.

“The wholesale market has grown quite substantially over the past 10 years. Residence Bel-air in Cyberport was the first large-scale, top-end project — not at The Peak, or in Clearwater Bay and Kowloon Tong — to equip their kitchens with our appliances,” Lam said.

“The Austin in Jordan set a record for installing the most Miele appliances. The developer ordered around 13,000 items for two blocks, using our full range.”

“That record will be broken by a new residential project in Macau. I cannot tell you which one as it hasn’t gone on sale. The demand in Macau is growing at an even faster pace. Developers believe that branded appliances add value to their properties.”

Despite their higher price tag, built-in home appliances are not a luxury any more. More families choose to replace the wok and microwave with a steam oven. The item is a source of pride for Lam as he helped modernize and popularize the concept in Asia.

The first generation of steam ovens, the DG160, had a steel tray on which one could put only a morsel of food. It could not meet the needs of Cantonese families for cooking a whole fish or a plate of meat patty.

Lam pressured Miele headquarters to develop one with a larger cavity. The steam ovens sold today can cook rice and several dishes simultaneously, saving time and making sure the food is still hot when served.

Lam was also the first person to introduce free-standing steam ovens to local customers whose kitchens often are not big enough to hold a built-in one. Miele now offers the most varied range of steam ovens on the market.

Lam has now two goals: to find the perfect steamed fish recipe and to grow a team to look after an expanding market.

“The team started off with eight employees. A repairman, a marketing officer who has moved to a regional managing director role, and I are still with the company. We used to do everything ourselves. But as managers, we have to know when to delegate,” he said.

“We now have 120 office staff and 50 or so front-line sales representatives. The real challenge is how to make people in a large team feel they are progressing professionally.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on June 30, 2017.